During the summer of 2013, Dwight Howard had a decision to make. Did he want to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers and pair with Kobe again or did he want to move on to play somewhere else? The relationship between Howard and Kobe in his one year with the Lakers was strained at best. Kobe was serious and about business. While Howard was jovial and never seemed to be serious about winning in Kobe’s eyes. In the meeting the Lakers had with Howard when he was making his decision where he would sign, Kobe went directly at Howard and told him that he could “teach him how to be a champion”. Howard listened to Bryant, but he was not at all interested in sticking around somewhere that he felt he could not be himself. Howard and Bryant were just not meant to be a pairing. Their personalities just went together like oil and water. And ultimately a separation was needed. Howard signed, for less money and one less year, with the Houston Rockets franchise. He was viewed as the guy that could change their franchise and help them ascend to greater heights than they did before. Well, two years later, the story of Howard in Houston has not gone the way he thought it would.
Howard had a good first season with the Rockets, averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds. The Rockets made it back to the playoffs on the strength of Howard and Harden, yet they ran out of gas in the 1st round of the NBA playoffs, losing to the Portland Trailblazers in six games. Howard had a great series versus the Trailblazers, putting up 26 points per game and grabbing 14 rebounds per game as well. But his efforts were not enough for them to continue forward. Going into this season, many thought that Howard would pick up where he left off versus Portland. But unfortunately he did not have the regular season he thought he would. Howard had progressed in the 2014 postseason. He was actually using post moves and looked like he knew what he was doing down there. But that did not last this season as he went back to the usual Dwight. Of course it did not help that he was injured most of this season, but when he was out there, he was the big man that could do everything else but put together two post moves back to back. Over the years, what made Howard so special over his career is his athleticism as a big man that allows him to block shots and be a bulldog rebounding the ball. That incredible athleticism allowed him to get by without having any real post moves for most of his career. But as time goes on in his career, the injuries are piling up and the athleticism is not what it once was. Now the soon-to-be 30 year old center is entering a phase of his career that may take him out of the spotlight even more. He had wanted to be a leader of his team. But the time has come for him to succumb to being the sidekick.
Dwight has realized that he is not the best player on the team in Houston. That title belongs to Rockets shooting guard James Harden. The veteran big man has said that he is willing to be the sidekick to Harden and that should be what he should do. After all, Harden has pretty much carried this team to the spot it’s in now without the services of Howard for much of the year. It was an easy decision for Howard to defer to the best player on the team. And if they are to make a run, Howard must realize that he is the sidekick and stay in his role. In fact, the best thing that could have happened to this Houston team was him getting injured. It allowed for more players like Terrence Jones to develop more and it also allowed Harden to have uninterrupted time as the leader of the team. Now with Howard there as the secondary guy, he can potentially go back to the things that made him good in Orlando, being the anchor on defense and rebounding. And if Howard can zone in on doing those things, the Houston could be a bigger threat than originally thought, especially if guys like Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry and Corey Brewer are hitting threes. The penetration of Harden along with the effect of Howard on the boards would be staggering to teams. But what happens after this season if the Rockets are not successful with Howard as the sidekick?
In the 2015-2016 season, there could be some issues between Harden and Howard. Assuming that Howard could be healthy, he could go back to the guy that would be requesting touches in the post. And as is documented by his play over the years, he cannot really be consistent with his post moves. Howard requesting touches in the paint without being able to do anything with it would do two things to the Rockets offense. First, it would take away the possessions that Harden has the basketball. Harden is by far the best playmaker the Rockets have and when he has the ball in his hands, good things tend to happen for Houston. So it would be imperative that Harden have the ball to help everyone else around him, including Howard, be more effective. Secondly, Howard requesting post touches will make the flow of the offense slow down. No one really fears him in the post when he has to make post moves. Teams fear him more when he gets offensive rebounds. Putting Howard in potential pick-n-roll situations more and then surrounding he and Harden with shooters is the most efficient way they can run offense.
Dwight may be content with playing the sidekick role for this postseason, but we have all witness the times where he expresses disgust when things don’t go the way he wants them to go. And that can be a bad thing for any team. Dwight may have to come to grips that he is not the main attraction there in Houston. James Harden has taken over that title for the foreseeable future. It’s up to Dwight Howard to understand that he cannot be the main focus at this point anymore. The best thing he can do is be Robin instead of trying to be Batman.